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Thoughts On Displacement


I've been employed in the world of business tech long enough to remember personally replacing minicomputers and electric typewriters with PCs, and the time when Microsoft was mostly known as a single-user operating system developer whose revenues were counted in single billions. I started very young, honest.

For me, the parallel with minicomputers versus the PC resonates strongest with the growing shift to online apps. In the mid eighties if your business enjoyed any significant utilisation of computing it was likely to be a minicomputer. And in the UK, often enough from a european systems manufacturer like Bull or Philips as much as from US firms like DEC or Prime. Minis were expensive, cumbersome and often limited to single tasks or processes.

Then the PC arrived, demolished the economics of industrial computing and democratised commercial computerization. It's a period of change that I'm seeing echoes of today.

Inside ten years, the PC had effectively killed off both the minicomputer and electric typewriter markets. Incumbent vendors like Wang, Olivetti and DEC did try to feebly compete by launching their own lines of PC, but it was too little too late. The P&Ls of industrial computing vendors had little in common with the newer, lighter and more flight of foot PC manufacturers like Compaq who were not weighed down with the huge workforces and operational baggage of the incumbents.

There was also the same goldrush to bring PCs to market as we see today with the proliferation of cloud apps, with countless home grown PC manufacturers in the UK twenty years ago compared with the few global behemoths we see today. 

But while I think's it's close - cloud apps are possibly as profound an emergence as the PC was - the comparison doesn't overlay completely, principally because the penetration of the incumbent technology - on premise software - is so deep and deeply rooted compared with 1970's industrial computing. So, it's hard to predict with any certainty how long it will take for cloud apps to displace on premise apps. But here's a rinky dink table with some of what I'm chewing over this lunchtime.

Feel free to challenge, rubbish, tweak, improve.

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